Dean Hess weighs in on role of schools in combating political polarization

The Hechinger Report utilized the expertise of UW–Madison’s Diana Hess, dean of the School of Education and the Karen A. Falk Distinguished Chair of Education, for a recent article focused on whether schools are responsible for rising political extremism.

Hess

The article, which is headlined “Can we teach our way out of political polarization?” asks whether we should expect schools to develop engaged and responsible citizens and whether we can blame them for the vast divide between how different groups understand our shared history.

Hess said that it is not straightforward.

“High quality civic education is essential to ensure that this generation of young people is fully prepared to participate wisely and well in the political and civic realms,” she remarked.

“That said, the crisis of epic proportions facing our democracy was caused by a confluence of factors and certainly should not be blamed solely or even primarily on what did or did not happen in our schools.”

In “The Political Classroom,” which Hess authored with Paula McAvoy, they write that “social inequality and political polarization are problems far too complicated to be corrected by schools,” the article reports.

They add that “The interplay between what students bring into the classroom and what they experience in school is complex and does not lend itself to easy or definitive answers.”

Hess told the Hechinger Report that schools must fill kids’ “intellectual knapsacks” with ideas “like the principle of free and fair elections; skills such as how to talk to people they disagree with about politics; and the ability to fact check so they are less susceptible to misinformation and outright propaganda. Practicing and participating in debates and political simulations is also key.”

Read the full report on the Hechinger Report website, here.